No Comment — March 26, 2010, 2:03 pm

What Frum’s Firing Tells Us About Politics Today

I’ve previously suggested that, in terms of tactics, I see the G.O.P. diverging into two main tendencies. One is Karl Rove’s G.O.P., in which short-term partisan gain trumps all other considerations, electoral politics tops policy, and pumping up the base is the instinctive reaction in every contest. Rove’s approach has created the present G.O.P.: an enraged group of largely white, over-40 males with its heaviest concentration in the states of the old Confederacy and in the Mormon Belt of the Mountain West. The alternative is David Frum’s G.O.P., which operates from a clearly defined set of conservative principles, believes in a longer-term strategy focused on building the party back to something approaching a plurality, and is committed to finding a modus vivendi with Democrats that allows the G.O.P. to accomplish at least some of its objectives when it’s out of power. Frum has presented a very compelling case for his views, and were he to prevail, it would produce a G.O.P. that pursues most of the same objectives as before, but behaves differently as it pursues them.

But yesterday, Frum was fired from his $100,000-a-year consultancy at the American Enterprise Institute. That decision tells us a good deal about AEI and the current dynamics within the Republican camp. In today’s AEI, policy experts aren’t there to do analysis and give advice—they’re there to serve as made-to-order propagandists. Differing views are not wanted. This is reinforced by Bruce Bartlett’s report in a post entitled, appropriately, “The Closing of the Conservative Mind”:

Since [Frum] is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI “scholars” on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

Bartlett reminds us that he was himself fired from a conservative think-tank after publishing a book that criticized the Bush Administration’s lack of budgetary discipline. Paul Krugman notes that Bartlett must be right about this. He flags a 2003 Heritage Foundation health-care report that endorses a position suspiciously similar to the bill that Obama just signed into law. And Heritage is generally reckoned still further to the right than AEI. Conor Friedersdorf, on the other hand, checks the record and finds plenty of evidence of AEI health experts, in fact, weighing in on the matter. (UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has now posted an “apology and clarification” in which he acknowledges having gone too far. He adds this: “With the benefit of hindsight I should have left the charge of muzzling out of my original post because it distracted people from the larger point I was making about the rigidity of thought at conservative think tanks and adherence to the Republican Party line, which I still believe to be the case. The fact that David was fired and the way he was fired is sufficient proof of that.”)

Frum also told Politico’s Mike Allen:

There’s a lot about the story I don’t really understand,… But the core of the story is the kind of economic pressure that intellectual conservatives are under. AEI represents the best of the conservative world. [AEI President] Arthur Brooks is a brilliant man, and his books are fantastic. But the elite isn’t leading anymore. It’s trapped. Partly because of the desperate economic situation in the country, what were once the leading institutions of conservatism are constrained. I think Arthur took no pleasure in this. I think he was embarrassed. I think he would have avoided it if he possibly could, but he couldn’t.

And finally, Frum gave ABC’s Nightline some fascinating remarks about the G.O.P.’s relationship with Fox News:

Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox. And this balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.

Frum is being extremely candid about a long-term problem for his party. No doubt some key Republicans are furious with him. But they should welcome sharp and self-critical thinking. This is how a political party reshapes itself after a defeat and emerges once more as a dominant force on the political stage.

These days there is a lot of Schadenfreude among the Democrats over the apparent brain trauma in the G.O.P., its penchant for hotheaded tactics, and its domination by radio and television personalities. That is foolish, because the G.O.P. is a central player in America’s democracy, and its institutional integrity and ability to serve are important to the political health of the nation as a whole. John Stuart Mill made this point compellingly in his essay on the Tory poet Coleridge. “Lord, enlighten thou our enemies,” he wrote. A modern democracy works best with competent, intelligent political parties committed to realizing their own best vision of what the nation should be. Lively interaction is her life’s blood. The vision that Frum offers is not just the healthier option for the G.O.P.; it reflects a better future for the country as a whole.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2017

Preaching to The Choir

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Monumental Error

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Star Search

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Pushing the Limit

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bumpy Ride

Bad Dog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Monumental Error·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
Article
Star Search·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On December 3, 2016, less than a month after Donald Trump was elected president, Amanda Litman sat alone on the porch of a bungalow in Costa Rica, thinking about the future of the Democratic Party. As Hillary Clinton’s director of email marketing, Litman raised $180 million and recruited 500,000 volunteers over the course of the campaign. She had arrived at the Javits Center on Election Night, arms full of cheap beer for the campaign staff, minutes before the pundits on TV announced that Clinton had lost Wisconsin. Later that night, on her cab ride home to Brooklyn, Litman asked the driver to pull over so she could throw up.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Pushing the Limit·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Bumpy Ride·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

One sunny winter afternoon in western Michigan, I took a ride with Leon Slater, a slight sixty-four-year-old man with a neatly trimmed white beard and intense eyes behind his spectacles. He wore a faded blue baseball cap, so formed to his head that it seemed he slept with it on. Brickyard Road, the street in front of Slater’s home, was a mess of soupy dirt and water-filled craters. The muffler of his mud-splattered maroon pickup was loose, and exhaust fumes choked the cab. He gripped the wheel with hands leathery not from age but from decades moving earth with big machines for a living. What followed was a tooth-jarring tour of Muskegon County’s rural roads, which looked as though they’d been carpet-bombed.

Photograph by David Emitt Adams
Article
Bad Dog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abby was a breech birth but in the thirty-one years since then most everything has been pretty smooth. Sweet kid, not a lot of trouble. None of them were. Jack and Stevie set a good example, and she followed. Top grades, all the way through. Got on well with others but took her share of meanness here and there, so she stayed thoughtful and kind. There were a few curfew or partying things and some boys before she was ready, and there was one time on a school trip to Chicago that she and some other kids got caught smoking crack cocaine, but that was so weird it almost proved the rule. No big hiccups, master’s in ecology, good state job that lets her do half time but keep benefits while Rose is little.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Estimated portion of French citizens with radical-Islamist beliefs who grew up in Muslim families:

1/5

Human hands are more primitive than chimp hands.

Trump declared flashlights obsolete as he handed them out to Puerto Ricans, 90 percent of whom had no electricity in their homes; and tweeted that he wouldn’t keep providing federal hurricane relief “forever” to Puerto Rico, a US territory that the secretary of energy referred to as a “country.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today